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Professor Law & Society Benjamin van Rooij conducts research into compliance with corona measures during and after a lockdown. Recently, fierce anti-discrimination protests broke out in the United States, and the rules were massively ignored. In conversation with Benjamin van Rooij we are looking for an explanation.

Was it rather striking that Americans adhered so well to corona rules, now these rules seem to be ignored on a large scale. How do you explain this? 

‘There was a shift before the protests. In many places in the US the measures have been relaxed and the hospitality industry has reopened. This offers more opportunity to violate social distancing rules. There is also much and strong political debate as to whether the covid measures are still necessary. Conservatives such as Trump would prefer to reopen and normalize everything. And there was also direct civil disobedience. Some pubs were still open, sometimes guarded by armed volunteers. 

There have also been cases of police violence against the black population for many decades. In recent years there have been many examples of maltreatment or murder of black victims by policemen. These two movements are now coming together. That's why there are so many protests now where there is no safe distance and there is a risk of the virus spreading.’

How do the protesters legitimize the violation of social distancing rules? 

‘Some protesters in the US say that discrimination and police violence have been a dangerous epidemic for much longer. They must rebel against it, even though the coronavirus is still there. According to a recent study, three to four black men between the ages of 25-29 are shot every 100,000 a year by the police. Police violence is a top six cause of death among these young men. The idea is that a vaccine may be available against the virus, while there is as yet no prospect of a "medicine" against police violence. 

Violation of the coronary measures is therefore a form of resistance, a form of civil disobedience befitting a long tradition from Gandhi to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. where oppressed people try to deal with injustice by breaking the law. In our new survey, which will be conducted this week, we will investigate directly how the protests are related to compliance with corona rules.’

Violation of the coronary measures is therefore a form of resistance, a form of civil disobedience befitting a long tradition from Gandhi to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Benjamin van Rooij, professor Law & Society

Does political preference have to do with whether or not to follow the rules?

‘According to some studies it does and according to others, including our studies in April and May, it doesn't. We are now analyzing why we have these different results. For example, we are looking at whether the studies that find political influence include enough important non-political influences in their models. We have also looked at practical opportunities for compliance and at the impulsiveness of people. These turned out to be very important explanatory factors. If you don't take them into account and focus more on political factors, they seem to play a greater role than they do in reality.’

In the Netherlands, masses of people also come together to protest. Is the situation similar? 

'The scale of protests in the US is not comparable. In the US, the last week there have been protests throughout the country from early morning to midnight. Often in direct violation of the curfew that has been set in many places. In the Netherlands there are far fewer protests and also with a much smaller scale. In the Netherlands the protest is about solidarity with what is happening in the US, and about everyday forms of discrimination and racism. The Dutch protests are not about lethal police action here. 

In the US, racist police violence goes far back in history with a direct link to slavery and the apartheid system. Police and racist violence is a daily present risk for African Americans. The failure to hold police accountable for racism and brutality adds insult to injury and has often been the spark that ignites protests for these everyday abuses. This was also the case with the Rodney King riots. They did not occur after Rodney King was brutally beaten up by the police in Los Angeles and the video of it came out. They started immediately after the officers involved were acquitted on April 29, 1992. Now you see the protesters are demanding that all four officers be put on trial for murder.’

Compliance with COVID-19 Mitigation Measures and Procedural Justice

To what extent do people obey the rules during the corona crisis? This is investigated by Professor Law & Society Benjamin van Rooij in the project 'Compliance with COVID-19 Mitigation Measures'. This research is funded by NWO, within the 'Corona: fast track data' programme. This grant programme was set up to collect data on issues arising in society during the corona crisis. It also investigates how procedural justice of enforcement (and therefore police violence) affects rule violations and crime in the US.